I have in my time as a death metal fan tried to classify the vocal styles of the various vocalists. Some you are already familiar with: pig squealing, bull roaring, demonic howling, witch snarling; maybe burping and vomiting. I think one I have not heard described is “tomb opening.” But it is a common enough style. It is marked by the amount of gravel in the throat, making it not so much a Napalm-esque roar, nor a bubbling, Wormed-ish burping, but to my ears, literally the sound a massive sarcophagus lid would make when removed. It is monotone, and is perhaps the most percussive style of death voxing. To get depth of field you will often have it counterpointed by the aforementioned witch snarling.
In a sense I think of it as the safest of the styles, simply because it neither detracts from the sound nor really adds to it. It is another percussive instrument controlled by the vocalist, and capable of delivering the lyrics without being obtrusive. This is not a complaint. Many a great band has used this vocalization style to great effect. And The Ominous Circle is just such a band.
What The Ominous Circle brings to the metal table is some absolutely, unabashedly dark metal in the vein of Incantation, taking ingredients from all the subgenres and laying them out in course and after course, riff upon riff of inescapable terror. Doom, black, old-school, new school, brutal… Magnificent drumming combines with stone cold guitar tones and the aforementioned tomb-opening vocals to create a heavy sense of existential doom in every song. Truly this is a band putting death into their death metal.
The moment I really knew I was hooked on this record came with the second track, “Poison Fumes,” where the instruments drop out apart from a single chugging guitar note. Not even a riff, just a double eight count of that thick, gravelly chunk played with palpable malice, like a hammer nailing you, still very alive and aware, into a coffin. That feeling illustrates the one-word impression this band gives: relentless. The vocals, the riffs, the compositions, all weigh on you with relentless oppressiveness.
The band plays at whatever tempo feels right, and the soloing is equal parts virtuostic and Slayer endreaded. The final two cuts on this beast add even more to the crisis, though. They grab something of the epic and wind it into their structures. The closer, “Consecrating His Mark” is perhaps as truly apocalyptic a piece of music as you are going to hear. And it moves through all the stylistic chambers the band had used previously to get you to the final fires. It feels like the final track of a metal opera about the breaking of the seven seals.
All this recorded with a mid-heavy, but very clear mix. The bassist in me always resists this kind of mix, but really the songs stomp out any complaints quickly enough. The one real complaint I have about this album is that the first track, “Heart Girt with a Serpent” is an excruciatingly overlong poetry reading – albeit by all the powers of hell, but still, it makes its point in the first minute. After that, it simply drags along for three more – same sound, but a rapidly decreasing sense of horror. The final track does call back to it at the very end, so I appreciate what the band were trying to do, but I just end up skipping it now, as it adds little to the experience of the record and actually detracts in most ways.
But that is a trifling complaint, easily solved by hitting the FF button or placing the stylus on track two or however you want to solve it. It does not in any sense take away from the album’s music or power once the festivities begin in earnest. This is a great death metal release and shows real promise for the future.